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In the most amazing sports story of the year, a nearly 51-year-old Phil Mickelson won the 103rd PGA Championship on a truly brutal Kiawah Island golf course on Sunday, May 23.
Almost nobody saw that coming, except maybe Phil. At 115 in the World Golf Rankings the betting line had him at 300-1 odds on Draft Kings; and one guy who bet $1,000 on Phil made $300,000.
That’s why they play the game! The win was Phil’s sixth major, having previously won three Masters, one British Open and one PGA (in 2005). It was his 45th PGA Tour win overall. His first PGA Tour win was the Northern Telecom Open in Tucson, as a 20-year-old amateur student golfer at Arizona State, some 30 years ago.
At 50 Mickelson ranks as the oldest player ever to win a major, having beaten the strongest tournament field in years, with 99 of the top 100 in the world playing.
For those who missed watching the final round, with Phil leading at 6-under par paired with Brooks Koepka at 5-under in the final group, it was spellbinding.
The 7,800-plus-yard Kiawah course runs east and west along the Atlantic shore with tight fairways, waste area and bunker sand everywhere, expansive salt marsh and lagoon water everywhere, and strong winds. The course played tough enough that many top players missed the cut, including Justin Thomas and world No. 1 Dusting Johnson.
It seemed like every single shot on Sunday had tournament-deciding implications. Phil led by as many as 5 strokes on Saturday and again on Sunday, but leads evaporate quickly on a course that difficult and windy, with hazards and odd bounces lurking. Phil, like Tiger, is wildly popular though not universally beloved. Why? After making a $1 million profit from a stock trade deemed illegal in 2011, he was ordered to return that profit but not charged with a crime. He is viewed by some as gambling in excess, once repaying a gambling debt for nearly $2 million to the same man who gave him the stock tip.
And then the Ryder Cup dustup with USA captain Tom Watson in 2014 at Gleneagles in Scotland, which has since been patched up. And after he a slapped a moving ball on the 13th green during the third round of the 2018 U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills, he was handed a two-stroke penalty, when he probably should have been summarily disqualified. This important major tournament win may go far in countering some of those controversies that have marred Mickelson’s image in recent years.
That having been said, Mickelson with his youthful personality, his fierce love of professional golf competition and abundant physical skills, is easy to root for.
Most of the 10,000 fans lining the fairways at Kiawah were cheering for Phil. So how did Phil do it? Partly like Bryson, Phil is an equipment freak. He played with a custom driver and a 2 wood. A 2 wood? Sunday on the range, he cracked the face of his 3 iron and was forced to hit a 4 iron to the long par-3 5th hole that went short into a bunker. On air, Sir Nick Faldo voiced that he might hole that shot, which he did for a birdie. Overcoming years of psoriatic arthritis, for some time Phil has been explaining about his fasting-based diet (he lost 15 pounds in 10 days), his gym workouts, his muscular calves and his habit of meditation.
“I just worked harder,” Phil said. Truth is it was Phil’s mental toughness that won the day. Behind those trooper sunglasses, Phil displayed the discipline and moxie on shots that his competitors failed at. With his brother Tim on the bag, after he fell one stroke behind Koepka early, Phil was urged on Sunday to “commit” to every shot. He did.
Phil won big with his golf legacy. He also pocketed $2.16 million and five-year exemptions to the three other majors.
“I hope that others find that inspiration. It might take a little extra work, a little harder effort,” said Phil.
I’m wondering is 50 the new 40?
Dr. Charles Blanchard is a licensed sports psychologist specializing in sports and leadership. Contact him at email@example.com